Bernardi’s prose throbs with color, sensuality, and intelligence
Winner of FC2’s Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize
A universal story of exile, of the refugee and emigrant, and of all those displaced who can reconstruct a sense of home only by weaving a new fabric of the imagination.
For nearly two decades, Şiva has met after work on Tuesdays with four friends at a teahouse called the Kafiye. In interrupted conversations, the women explore what it is to live engaged lives inside and outside the home. Amidst joking and complaints, while drinking too much tea and eating too many sweets, they tell of their days: a son’s ninth birthday, the bruise on the arm of an aging parent, soldiers stationed outside the school, the funeral of an opposition political leader killed in a mysterious car accident.
Set in an unnamed provincial capital of an unnamed country, Benefit Street tells of a wide circle of friends — teachers, lawyers, missionaries, doctors, artisans — in a time of gathering and dispersal. It tells the story of mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, colleagues, and neighbors, as war to the East threatens and constitutional rights are daily eroded by an increasingly authoritarian regime.
The ideals of youth, freedom, and coexistence are severely tested with the shocking revelation that the charismatic leader of their group has sexually abused the women under his care. The limits of reconciliation are tested as Şiva makes an arduous journey into the mountains to meet an estranged mother with a genius for weaving complex rugs.
A lyric marvel of a book is Benefit Street and what a pleasure to trace the warp and weft of its splendid tapestry. A community of women, their longings and terrors interwoven with children, husbands, histories, and geographies compose this innovative tour-de-force, and beneath this account of a fragile world is the fear of its loss, the overlapping shadows of war and change. Bernardi’s prose throbs with color, sensuality, and intelligence.
Adria Bernardi’s Benefit Street is a marvel to read. It is a book about people and the social networks they weave. It is a book about cities and how cities anchor those networks. Finally, it is about the tapestry of relationships that cities, large and small, foster, regardless of ethnic and religious background. Reminiscent of Italo Calvino but moving to its own rhythms and creating its own poetry, Benefit Street is a novel that sings like no other.
What does it mean to lose a language, a culture, hard-won freedoms, a community? In this mysterious, allusive, and wonderfully economical novel, Bernardi’s characters weave a moving tapestry of friendship, courage, and deep feeling.